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Culture

Masquerade 101

Metro Times Photo / Rebecca Cook
Jessica Swanson (aka Jake the Snake). See our concurrent "Drag kings" story to see a photo of Jessica's alter ego.
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Published 1/23/2002

I never got on stage as a drag king, but I cross-dressed for a night — even if it was Halloween.

Inspired by my research and with a last-minute need for a costume, I announced my plan to Jessica Swanson (aka Jake the Snake), who eagerly helped. Jessica said she’d need about an hour to make me up. I was running late, so I skipped the typical Ace bandage breast binding and decided to go with a sports bra and a loose work shirt over jeans. Last, I donned a boyish black-leather jacket.

I tried to be still while Jessica applied cold spirit gum to my face with something like a nail-polish brush. She held up a hair extension. “We’re just going to glue this to your face so you’ll have one long sideburn.” We laughed. She cut up some of the synthetic hair and commenced gluing it on, while I fought back a smile that threatened to leave tiny patches of skin between the whiskers.

Once she was done, I looked in the mirror and let out a yelp. There before me was not Jennifer, but Joel, a scrawny biker boy with generous sideburns, a small beard and a healthy moustache. The finishing touches were the Jake the Snake’s pointy-toed boots and an empty cigarette pack shoved down the front of my jeans for that look of authenticity.

“Wait, can I do something with your hair?” asked my accomplice. She let my long, brown hair out of its ponytail and pulled my blue bandana to midforehead. Perfect.

Then there was a little last-minute coaching. Jessica had explained that I should walk with my hips more forward. I practiced walking before the mirror in the too-big boots, imagining that I had hulking shoulders. Joel was ready to roll — well, as ready as he would ever be.

Soon I was walking into the party along with Snow White and a retro librarian. I noticed curious glances, particularly from the men. I tried to keep my poise.

I imagine my illusion of masculinity ended for everyone when I opened my mouth and failed to produce a deep enough voice. A friend looked confused at first, then broke into laughter upon recognizing me, saying, “What a great costume.” But the guy wearing the hula skirt and the coconut bra later admitted that a friend had to tell him, “That’s a girl.”

Once people had figured out Joel’s secret, I felt free to ham it up and engage in a little friendly backslapping with some of the fellas. I grabbed a long neck and introduced myself as Joel. They said they were dressed up as Grosse Pointe kids. I said “Yeah, I wish I’d dressed up.”

By midparty, I was lapsing in and out of character. Sitting down next to my friend Bonnie, the librarian, I leaned back and spread my legs wide. A guy remarked that I had the guy sitting thing down. As my gal self, I can’t imagine sitting that way in public, taking up so much space? Shouldn’t I close my legs so someone can sit next to me? Doesn’t this look — not even unladylike, but lewd?

In the end, I have no doubt that Joel had fun at the party, making loudmouthed rude comments, flashing lusty looks over his shoulder at Snow White and raising women’s skirts with his pointy-toed boot. I, on the other hand, felt as if I was watching the whole charade through a tiny camera in Joel’s skull while picking his beard out of my teeth. After the party, sometime in the early morning, I found myself sitting in my car in the parking lot of a 24-hour Rite Aid, removing my beard with a wad of cotton soaked in rubbing alcohol, glad to be returning after my brief foray into manhood.

Jennifer Bagwell is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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